Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Rapier Wit, Taken Too Literally


Social Conflict is a polarizing issue in the already polarized world of Roleplaying Games. (Nerds love to argue; we really do.) Even I have waffled quite a bit and still remain a bit ambivalent on the subject. Both arguments make a certain amount of sense.

The Arguments In Essentia :

Pro Social Conflict type Mechanics - Not everyone can swing a sword or cast fireballs, but there's a system in place to let them pretend to do so efficiently. Not everyone can be quick witted and debonaire; why wouldn't there be some mechanics to simulate that for them?


Anti Social Conflict type Mechanics - Why on earth would you let dice dictate how a conversation goes? Aren't we supposed to be getting creative together? Dice controlling or contradicting Dialogue seems to be completely counter to the idea of player agency.

My Thoughts and Practices :
Personally, I find the vast majority of in character conversations to not really require dice. If your character is offering the innkeeper a compelling reason to let them stay at a discounted rate, I'll probably just let it happen (unless the innkeeper was particularly miserly). However, should one of my players say, "I wanna talk him down to like three silver," I would likely respond with "Allright. How're you gonna try that?"

I wouldn't be looking for a the exact argument verbatim. Had the player wanted to get into it, he/she would have just done so.  Once I got an idea of what they were going for, I'd let the heart of the argument rest as a bonus or penalty and roll them bones.

That's all well and good, but not every system has mechanic that works well for social shit. Therefore, I've (barely) developed a little bolt-on mechanical system: Social Weapons and Armor.

The Nuts and Bolts :

Basically take whatever skill/task/noncombat resolution your system has and let the "attacking" party choose a "weapon" and the "defending" party choose some "armor". (Hooray! Extended Metaphors!)

In the example above, the player would be the attacker and the innkeeper the defender. (Most of the time, that's how it's gonna be. Players usually do [and should] take the active role in things.)


Each attack type is cancelled out by a defense type. Should the social attack not be countered by the appropriate defense, then the player gets a small bonus to his/her roll. If the character has a high Charm, Prettyness, Charisma, or Whatever score drop in another bonus. If he/she has some skill in Persuade, Sexxy, Seduction, or Whatever let him/her choose two attacks or defenses to try simultaneously.

This can be used to simulate an attempt at seduction, a plea for help to an unwilling person, or even two parties arguing a case before a judge/baron/visier/king/etc. One party setting up an "attack", the other the "defense". (If it's unclear who is attacking or defending, the defensive position is the one closest to the status quo or requiring the least action/change.)

Additionally, Social Weapons and Armor, could be a pretty good way to represent political maneuvering/chicanery in pretty much any setting/system. A few checks here and there could help determine what type of support one turns up with when the Great Senate is called to session.

Charm - Being beguiling and seductive or simply affable and friendly.
Wary - Having Exceptional distrust and caution when it comes to people.

Authority - Citing one's own or borrowing somebody else's authority (whether political, muscled, academic, etc.). Remember, having a knife/gun in your fist is it's own type of Authority.
Irreverent - Not giving a good godsdamn 'bout nobody's stupid shit!

Facts - Throwing down logical and material arguments.
Educated - Being well-informed and smart enough to counter with your own facts and reasoning, or simply being clever enough to shift the facts to fit your worldview.

Pandering - Playing to sensibilities of the subject(s). Of course, these sensibilities need to be known.
False Front - Not actually having the sensibilities one seems to have.

Morality - Appealing to the moral feelings and sense of decency in the subject(s).
Dogmatic - Having a completely inflexible moral code that disregards situational ethics.

How to actually use it :

Let's take Lamentations of the Flame Prince Weird Fantasy Role-Playing as an example. It's skill system pretty much implies you've got an X in 6 chance to do something/anything. Add in your Charisma bonus (+1 = another 1 in 6), see if your argument attack/weapon is canceled by the defense/armor (no? 1 in 6 goes to 2 in 6), and roll them bone.

If you're using a d20 system, I'd probably give it a +1 or +2 depending on how apropos the "Weapon" was to the situation at hand, assuming it wasn't countered of course. Using a pool system? Roll a bonus die.

Anyway, I'll let you figure out the details. It should be pretty simple to bolt this idea on to pretty much any rpg system. Expanding the list of  "Weapons and Armor (Nouns and Adjectives)" wouldn't be difficult, either.

So ya, good gaming and enjoy the now crunchier arguments.


Post Scriptum : It occurred to me, while writing this, that it'd be pretty easy to turn this into a duelling subsystem as well. Somebody do that, please, and don't forget to share it with the rest of the class.

Additionally, I'm working on a few modules/adventures and a Sans System Bestiary format Monster (with a bonus Micro-Adventure!) which I intend to sell for money. (Plus, I'll be a father sometime soonish. I understand babies are a bit of a time suck.) Hence, this blog is about to slow waaaayyyy the hell down. I'll still probably kick a real article out every now an again, but expect a lot of journalish, this-is-what-I'm-doing type posts for a while.

Word Out, Homies.